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As I was looking through my photos from 100 Days of Books, I realized that this little batch — books 71 through 80 — have some of my favorite photos from the entire experiment. I think maybe by this time I’d really started finding my groove, and I was out and about a little more so I could find some fun backgrounds further away from home. For those keeping track, I’ll have two final long posts like this wrapping up my project, and then a more reflective post on lessons learned and what I’m hoping to do next. Thanks for reading!

71. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is such a hilarious book, especially for those of us who grew up during the height of the Beanie Baby craze. The book has, no joke, some of the best quotes from interviews that I’ve ever read in a reported work of nonfiction — a testament, I’d guess, to both what a good reporter Zac Bissonnette is and to how much people who worked with Ty Warner (the creator of Beanie Babies) actually hate him now. In addition to being really fun, the book also is smart primer on some consumer economics issues like speculative markets and the way behavioral fallacies lead to bad economic decisions. This one is highly recommended.

72. Portage by Sue Leaf

I bought Portage by Sue Leaf impulsively at an independent bookstore in Duluth, Minnesota. I was traveling along the North Shore, so a collection of essays about life on the water seemed like a good choice for that place. I was pleasantly surprised at the way I fell in love with this book, which one of the blurbs describes as “a guidebook to canoeing or how to raise a family, a natural history, a meditation on the significance of wild places, an intimate portrayal of a marriage.” From the first page, I wanted to be in a canoe with Leaf and her family, seeing the natural world in a new and challenging way. I loved thinking about wildness, family, and aging, and learning about the history of wild places close to where I live. It was just so, so good.

73. Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

When cartoonist Sarah Glidden decided to accompany two journalist friends on a reporting trip to Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, she was hoping to better understand the purpose of journalism and how journalists do their work. The trip, organized to report on the effects of the Iraq War and the lives of refugees, is complicated by a fourth traveler, a childhood friend and former marine who was deployed to Iraq in 2007. Throughout the trip, Sarah and her companions interviewed civilians, refugees, and officials, trying to find interesting (and marketable) stories about the impact of the war they can share with American audiences. I thought Rolling Blackouts was an interesting read, although parts already feel dated given the volatile and violent situation in Syria today. I loved the illustrations, and appreciated the way Glidden had a sense of empathy for everyone she encountered (her companions as well as their interview subjects). Her book clearly shows the importance of stories – those gathered by journalists and those we choose to share ourselves – in building a shared sense of humanity.

74. The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle (out September 2017 from Touchstone). Even among the wealthiest Gilded Age Americans, George Vanderbilt’s 125,000 acre estate in rural North Carolina was noteworthy. The mansion he built there, Biltmore House, was designed by celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt, with landscaping by Frederick Law Olmstead. When George died it was up to his widow, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, to try and preserve the 175,000-square-foot home, along with the priceless antiques and artwork and sprawling village that grew up around the estate. The Last Castle is a lovely history of the Gilded Age and how America has changed since then. Biltmore House was one man’s dream and legacy, but the story of the house touches a vast array of artists, politicians, writers, and citizens of the country. This is the first book I read from BookExpo, and I enjoyed it immensely.

75. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride is set in present-day Toronto, Ontario, and focuses on three college acquaintances turned friends, Roz, Charis, and Tony. At the beginning of the book, they’re meeting at a restaurant for lunch when Zenia, a “frenemy” who they believe recently died, shows up, very much alive. Drama! The book then splits off to tell the three stories of how Zenia became part of each of their lives, stealing away their beaus and leaving a mess whenever she went. I love how good Margaret Atwood is at writing distinctive female characters. With Roz, Charis and Tony, she perfectly captures the sense of how friends work – covering for each other, dropping everything when needed, but still being able to be annoyed with quirks you dislike. And then Zenia is so awful, a malevolent spirit that comes into each of the women’s lives, pretends to be a victim, then wreaks havoc before disappearing again. It’s all just so great!

76. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is one of those memoirs that everyone who is deeply immersed in the genre has read, but I only just got around to picking it up this month, prompted by seeing trailers for the movie coming out later this year. Jeannette Walls and her three siblings grew up with loving but deeply neglectful parents. Her father could be “brilliant and charismatic” when sober, but became “dishonest and destructive” when he’d been drinking. Her mother was free spirited, uninterested in a domestic life or the work that comes from raising a family. Throughout her childhood, Walls’ family roved from city to city, keeping just ahead of law enforcement, debt collectors, and criminals, until they settled in a barely habitable shack in the Appalachian mountains. Once there, the siblings did what they needed to get by until they could make their way on their own. There’s so much about this memoir that is shocking and difficult to read, but I was struck with the warmth Walls still holds for her family. This is a book about survival, looking back with clear eyes and an empathetic heart – it’s simply remarkable.

77. Startup by Dorree Shafrir

Startup by Doree Shafrir read like two different novels to me. The first half is a sharp and funny look at tech startup culture, everything from ridiculous employee perks to the constant race for funding and buzz. The story follows three main characters – Mack, a startup CEO on the verge of a major investment deal; Katya, a journalist looking for a big scoop; and Sabrina, a mother trying to reenter the industry in her 30s. The second half, a more serious (but still sharp) look at gender and journalism in tech, takes off after Mack sends an inappropriate text message to one of his female employees, setting off a chain of events that brings the the characters crashing together. I stayed up way too late last night finishing this book because I really wanted to see how Shafrir was going to bring the story to a close. I’m not totally sure what I thought of the ending, but really enjoyed the ride to get there.

78. Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge takes a sobering look at American gun culture through the stories of the 10 young people who were killed by guns in the United States on one random day, Nov. 23, 2013. The stories range quite dramatically, and reflect the way gun violence affects people across the country in similar and different ways. Younge uses their stories to explore what it means to live in a county that can’t seem to enact meaningful gun control measures, despite a near constant drum of people killed each day and each year by guns. It’s a sobering, emotional read that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be getting any less relevant as time passes.

79. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

At an artsy summer camp in the 1970s, six teenagers meet and, in the way that all summer friendships go, vow to remain close forever. In the case of “The Interestings,” the nickname they give themselves, this turns out to be somewhat true. Decades later, they are still connected, although an incident at camp remains a complicated cloud in the background of their varied adult successes. The Interestings is a novel that has a lot of ideas about creativity, art, friendship, and growing up. I loved the twisting plot, which shifts back and forth in time and perspective in a lovely way. And I loved the way that Meg Wolitzer wrote about the particular jealousy of friends. She perfectly captured that sense of rooting for the people you love while simultaneously wondering and feeling insecure about how your own life is working out. I think this would be a good vacation read if you like your novels with big ideas and a little darkness.

80. 100 Pep Talks by Elisa Blaha Cripe

I’ve been sharing book photos and short reviews for the last 80 days as part of The 100 Day Project, a global art initiative where people around the world commit to doing something creative every day for 100 days and sharing it on social media. I’m not an artist, but I felt like it was something I could do as a writer because of Elise Blaha Cripe (@elisejoy). Her 2016 project was to write 100 pep talks, which she then collected and self-published in this book. I’ve given copies of this one to friends when I feel like they need a boost, and often pick it up and skim through when I feel like I need a boost myself. No single pep talk is revolutionary, but it’s lovely to have a little push… just start, say your big dreams out loud, you’re not going to run out of ideas, celebrate your wins, you’ll get better at this, you can change. The book makes me smile, and I’m grateful that the project it came from has given me such a creative boost during the last few months. You can learn more about The 100 Day Project at the100dayproject.org and more about 100 Pep Talks at www.elisejoy.com/100peptalks.

Reviews finished! You can check out Days 1 through 10Days 11 through 20Days 21 through 30Days 31 through 40Days 41 through 50, Days 51 through 60, and Days 61 through 70 on the blog, or follow me on Instagram for more bookish photos (outside my 100 Days project).

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24in28 Readathon: My Best Laid Plans

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how, for me, sitting down with an absorbing book can be an almost meditative activity for me. It helps me settle into a rhythm, silence the voices in my head, and stop multi-tasking in a way few other activities do. Which is why I am so, so excited for this weekends 24in48 Readathon, hosted by Rachel, Kerry and Kristin.

If reading for 24 hours over a 48 hour weekend is a marathon, then I’m trying to run the half marathon — 12 hours between 12:01 a.m. on Saturday and 11:59 p.m. on Sunday (Eastern Standard Time). That feels like a reasonable goal to me. It’s long enough that I’ll have to consciously choose reading over other activities that I like to do on weekends, but not so long that I feel like it’s impossible.

The biggest challenge is going to be Sunday. My sister signed us up for cooking class to learn to make donuts, and then we’re going to have a bit of a girls day in Stillwater (a super cute town along the river at the Minnesota/Wisconsin border). There’s a winery, ice cream, and bookstores… so of course we’ll be spending some time there. But, I plan to read most of the day Saturday, and as much as I can on Sunday before and after our adventure.

I didn’t spend as much time making up a possible readathon book pile this time around, mostly because I feel like I haven’t had the mental space to think much (I’ve had a busy week of job searching activities). So, these are primarily the books sitting on the shelf in front of my face or that have come into the house fairly recently.

  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond — I’m partially through this one, which normally I try to avoid ahead of a readathon, but I need to finish it for a book club meeting next week.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I’m working on a Book Riot post where I might include this book… but I have to read it first!
  • Terrier by Tamora Pierce — This is another Book Riot-adjacent pick, a group is doing an informal readalong of all the Tamora Pierce books that I am trying to participate it.
  • Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen — Essays on unruly women should be a nice break at some point, I think.
  • All Day by Liza Jessie Peterson — I grabbed this book at BookExpo, but haven’t made time to read it. Excuses, excuses.
  • Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong — This is one of my Book of the Month picks this month. Reviews have been mixed, but I”m hoping the format will be readathon friendly.
  • American Fire by Monica Hesse — And this is my other Book of the Month pick. I am really curious about this one, and I also feel like it will read quickly… something I find really satisfying during a readathon.

I definitely want to finish Evicted — I’m about two-thirds done, and need to finish it for my book club meeting next week. I’m also excited to dig into American Fire, but I’m worried it’ll be a little heavy on top of Evicted. We’ll see… if for some reason none of these catch my eye tomorrow, I’ve got quite a few other books to choose from!

I’ll be posting all of my readathon updates over on Instagram, so follow me there: www.instagram.com/kimthedork.

Are you participating in this weekends 24in48 Readathon? What books are you excited to pick up?

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I’m really excited and a little bummed to say that 100 Days of Books officially wrapped up on Instagram last Wednesday, July 12. I’m excited because I never really thought I’d be able to see it all the way through, and bummed because I’m a little sad that it’s over. But, I’ve still got the reviews to share here. I think I am going to keep with the schedule of putting up a post each Monday, wrapping up with the last 10 reviews in early August. So, if you haven’t been following along in real time, you can look forward to that content here soon.

61. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things is a really wonderful collection of advice columns novelist/essayist Cheryl Strayed wrote at The Rumpus under the persona of Sugar. Sugar is, for me, like that one person in your life that will recognize when you’ve gone off the rails, then get you back on track in the most kind and generous way possible. Strayed is an amazing writer, and her style is on display in everyone one of these lovely, profane, honest and frustrated columns. As a word of caution, I don’t recommend reading these essays straight through – they can start to feel a little repetitive – but they’re perfect to dip in and out of when you need a little bit of kick-in-the-pants empathy.

62. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing starts with the story of two half sisters living in different villages in Ghana. Effia is forced to marry an Englishman who is part of the British slave trade in that region. Esi is a prisoner of the British who is eventually sold into the Gold Coast slave trade and send to America. Each chapter of the book follows the generations on both sides of the family, looking at the way the slave trade affected individuals on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, touching on colonization, the Civil War, the Great Migration, and on into the present. I loved the structure of this book, which is right in between interconnected short stories and an epic family drama. You get a sense of the big story of these families and how they fit into history, but every chapter is also a portrait of an individual at those times. It manages to be both very specific and incredibly broad, which feels like such an achievement, especially given that it’s a really compelling read.

63. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a debut essay collection about “growing up the daughter of Indian immigrants in western culture, addressing sexism, stereotypes, and the universal miseries of life.” In this collection, Scaachi Koul shows a real skill at moving between funny and poignant moments. She writes about her parents with a lot of love, and a fair amount of frustration, but manages to always look at them with a generous eye. I especially loved the pages between chapters, where Koul would include brief email exchanges with her father. They weren’t really about anything, but captured their relationship succinctly and perfectly, and gave some added roundness to the last (and best) essay of the book, about the consequences of Koul telling her parents about her long term relationship with a white man. I thought this collection was great.

64. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Monsieur Jean Perdu makes his living has a literary apothecary, prescribing novels to ease the difficult moments of life. His expertise comes from years of experience and his own broken heart – 20 years earlier, his first great love disappeared, leaving only a letter which Perdu never opened. When he finally reads the letter, Perdu is inspired to shake his life up, beginning a journey by boat through the south of France, making new friends and recommending books for the trials that affect everyone he meets. I read The Little Paris Bookshop on a recommendation and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be for me. The first two thirds, Perdu’s river journey, were a little too charming for me. But the final third, in which Perdu begins to actively process his loss while stepping away from the demands of his life and job, resonated with me in a way I can’t quite articulate. I’m not sure it’s a book I’d universally recommend, but it is one that meant a great deal at this moment in my own journey through loss and young widowhood.

65. News to Me by Laurie Hertzel

When Laurie Hertzel joined the Duluth News Tribune in the mid-1970s as a clerk, she didn’t know if journalism would be her career. News to Me is a self-deprecating and charming coming-of-age story about life in the newsroom, a story that I am almost perfectly suited to enjoy. But I also think this memoir has a lot to offer other readers, including a clear-eyed look at the challenges that have always faced those working in newsrooms, and the slow shift from journalism as a job to journalism as a profession. I appreciated Hertzel’s sense of humor, measured nostalgia, and sense of optimism for the future.

66. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Lady Jane Grey is famous for being a short-lived queen, sitting on the British throne for just nine days in July 1553 before being betrayed by her advisors, imprisoned, and executed. My Lady Jane reimagines the relationship between King Edward, Jane, and Jane’s husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, suggesting that Edward didn’t die, Jane escaped execution, and all three are able to transform into animals at will. In terms of silliness and fun, this book was really a delight – a cotton-candy read for a summer afternoon.

67. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

The morning of Sept. 8, 1900 began in an unremarkable way for most of the residents of Galveston, Texas. U.S. Weather Bureau meteorologist Isaac Cline noted some “strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds” coming off the Gulf of Mexico, but failed to attribute them to a more significant weather event. Hours later, a devastating hurricane hit the coast, killing 6,000 people and destroying the seaside town. In Isaac’s Storm, written in 2000, Erik Larson follows the storm, the lives of those in Galveston, and the mistakes (aka hubris) of the fledgling U.S. Weather Bureau that contributed to the widespread devastation. This book doesn’t move as easily as some of Larson’s other book, but it is a riveting look at a particular storm and the institutional history of weather forecasting at the turn of the century.

68. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Young lovers Ifemelu and Obinze leave Nigeria together, but are separated when Ifemelu makes it to America and Obinze finds himself stuck in England. Fifteen years later, they’re reunited in back at home, but have to find out whether time and culture have pulled them too far apart. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Americanah is a truly great novel. It’s a quietly funny and incisive look at race and family and how our relationships are affected by where we come from and the identities we carry with us. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie doesn’t hold anything back as Ifemelu makes her way through some less-than-flattering parts of modern America, but it felt like she approached her commentary with a generosity of spirit that I appreciated.

69. Ten Letters by Eli Saslow

Every night during his two terms in office, President Barack Obama received a briefing book that included policy memos, scheduling details, and a purple folder with 10 letters from American citizens who wrote to the president. Every day, specific staff members at the White House sifted through the thousands of letters and e-mails that arrived to choose these letters — 10 voices that presidential aides said helped inspire the president and gave him a more person sense of what was happening across the country. In Ten Letters, Washington Post journalist Eli Saslow profiles 10 people whose letters to delivered to the president in late 2009 and 2010, creating a portrait of the people and issues that were affecting our country in that moment. Saslow is a remarkable profile writer, and I loved the way the book explored the relationship between citizens and their president through the written word.

70. Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler

Books in the wild! I listened to Self-Inflicted Wounds as an audiobook, but when I saw it on a display at my local library I had to snap a photo. In this collection of essays, comedian Aisha Tyler (who I recognized from voicing Lana Kane on Archer) shares “heartwarming tales of of epic humiliation” and the wisdom she’s gained from those moments throughout her life. I listened to this audiobook during my long commute last fall, and really enjoyed it. There were a bunch of laugh out loud moments, but they never felt mean-spirited or fake, which sometimes can happen in celebrity essays. This is fun, if you get a chance to listen.

Reviews finished! You can check out Days 1 through 10Days 11 through 20Days 21 through 30Days 31 through 40Days 41 through 50, and Days 51 through 60 on the blog, or follow me on Instagram for more bookish photos (outside my 100 Days project).

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Currently | The Slide into Summer

Around Here | Life continues to be pretty chill, what with the not having a job thing. I’m starting to gear up my job search a little more, which I think is good since the whole process takes such a long time anyway. I’m focusing on public sector or nonprofit communications jobs in the Twin Cities metro area, which is a decent-sized pool to work with, it seems.

Reading | I got a lot of reading done over my Fourth of July holiday at the cabin, but things have been pretty slow since then. I blame random surfing on the Internet — I am not good at just putting my phone away to read without distraction, but it’s a thing I want to work on. Anyway, over the holiday I read Chemistry by Weike Wang (a “coming-of-age novel about a young female scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off track”) and Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (a novel about twin sisters who may or may not be psychic, and what happens after one makes terrifying public prediction).

Since then, I’ve been very slowly working through Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (a novel about African immigrants trying to make it in America in the shadow of the 2008 economic collapse) and The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith (nonfiction about finding meaning and purpose in our everyday lives).

Watching | The most recent season of iZombie finally made it to Netflix! I binged the 13 episodes in a single day, and I can’t bring myself to feel sorry about that. Rose McIver, who plays the main character, Liv Moore, is just a treasure, and so funny in every episode. I am also really digging two family comedies — Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless.

Listening | New podcast alert! Sam Sanders, formerly of the NPR Politics team, is hosting a new podcast called It’s Been a Minute. On Tuesdays he does a deep dive interview or exploration of a single topic, and on Fridays it’s more of a conversation with guests about the news and culture of the week. I’ve only listened to the Friday episodes so far, but I like them!

Drinking | For my birthday last weekend we had two champagne cocktails, a Peach-Orange Bellini and a French 75. Both were super tasty, and also really boozy.

Obsessing | For like the last month I’ve been falling down many strange rabbit holes related to my bullet journal. A basic bullet journal is just a notebook with different types of lists — future plans, monthly and daily to dos, collections — that you just keep all in one notebook. But there are a ton of people who do more than that — really elaborate spreads, stamps, journaling, photos, etc., making their bullet journals into a productive and creative space. I am not artsy, but I’ve been really into looking at art journaling supplies, brush lettering classes, stamps and stickers… I’m falling in deep.

Loving/Hating | Minnesota is moving into the hot, humid weather that characterizes the middle/end of summer. It’s making it harder to be outside, but I’m trying to get some sun and enjoy our patio on the slightly cooler days and evenings.

Enjoying | The Fourth of July fireworks display on the lake at our cabin was pretty epic this year. We were really, really close, and I ended up getting a lot of great pictures — not typical for a fireworks display!

Feeling | Times around events, holidays, or anniversaries are so strange for me. There’s this weird dread/anticipation leading up to the event (currently, my birthday) where I think about Nate a lot, and how things would be different if he were here, and how every time something changes it takes me further away from him and our life together. I haven’t figure out what to do with those feelings, other than feel them and be open to people near me about why I am acting so strange. Grief is hard.

Anticipating | For my birthday, my sister signed us up for a cooking class where we are going to learn to make donuts. Donuts! Could there be anything more exciting? I don’t think so.

What are you reading, watching and listening to this fine summer season? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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The 10 books I’m featuring today were all posted on Instagram as part of my 100 Day Project during a period of travel, coming home from Book Expo, then heading up to my family’s cabin for Memorial Day — hence, all of the nature shots even when they didn’t seem appropriate. But it’s also a string of really great books, a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction and a mix of recent books and older reads. For those keeping track, the project finishes up on Instagram this Wednesday, woo!

51. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things is one of those epic, full life stories that start with a birth, go back in time for some context, then follow a character forward into old age. In this case, the main character is Alma Whittaker, an awkward botanist more at home learning about the plants on her parent’s property than making a place for herself in society. The story beautifully explores questions of family, identity and purpose with a wonderfully full world of friends and relatives that Alma also slowly begins to understand. The book was maybe 100 pages too long, but Gilbert’s prose is so lovely I hardly minded.

52. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean is a classic of modern immersion journalism. Orlean follows a man named John Laroche, chronicling his obsession with cloning the rare, endangered ghost orchid. His efforts bring him into the circle of Florida’s Seminole tribe, local law enforcement, and the underground world of rare flower sellers. As entertaining as that story is (Laroche is an amazing, charismatic, complicated subject), the book is really an exploration of passions and pursuing those passions as far as you can go. Orlean sets herself up as a foil to the people she is writing about, someone without a grand passion, writing near the beginning of the book: “I suppose I do have one unembarrassed passion. I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.” That angle – an outside observer trying to understand a passionate subculture – has carried over into a ton of recent narrative nonfiction. If it’s an approach you enjoy, you should absolutely pick up this book.

53. In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

For years, Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy have lived the American dream. After coming to the United States from Eqypt, Samir has started a successful medical practice, they have three beautiful children, and are connected to families in their New Jersey community. But when their oldest son, Hossam, and their neighbor’s daughter, Natalie, are found dead, the Al-Menshawys become outcasts. In the Language of Miracles follows the Al-Menshawy family through the five days before a memorial service planned by the Bradstreets to mark the one-year anniversary of Natalie’s death. Each member of the family sees the memorial in a different way, and struggles to find their place within the community, the family, and the multiple cultures they are a part of. This book shares a lot of the same DNA as Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, which is also great, so if you liked that book definitely get this one too.

54. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The setting for The Boys in the Boat is the fraught 1936 Olympic Games. Adolf Hitler was in power in Germany, and planned to use the games to demonstrate German dominance at sports and show the world that everything in Germany was going just fine. But a scrappy team of rowers from the United States – a team of “farmers, fishermen and lumberjacks” – managed to challenge the dominant teams of Europe, in a Cinderella story reminiscent of the great upsets in sports history. This book is an incredible read, one of my favorite works of historical nonfiction. Daniel James Brown is so good at writing each race, but never forgets that the emotional heart of the story is the young men who worked together and overcame enormous odds to compete on the world stage. I love this book.

55. Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In 2010, the United States Army began piloting a new program that would allow women to serve alongside Special Operations soldiers in Afghanistan. As part of Cultural Support Teams, these female soldiers went on raids out in the field with a specific focus on connecting with the women in insurgent compounds to look for weapons and gather intelligence. In Ashley’s War, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon follows one of the first CST units through their recruitment, training, and first experiences in combat. This book was really stellar, and opened my eyes to some of the unique challenges and dangers facing female soldiers. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that the book is a heart-breaker that I still highly recommend.

56. Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

In Thank You for Your Service, journalist David Finkel follows several soldiers returning home from a tour of duty on the front lines in Baghdad. Many of them are suffering from PTSD or other physical and mental injuries, and their struggle to adjust and reintegrate affects their families and the other professionals trying to help them. It’s a really compelling portrait about the sacrifices we ask from soldiers, and the less obvious sacrifices that a deployment can ask from others. I was just blown away at the honesty and depth of this book. While there were moments when Finkel relies on some linguistic flourishes that I didn’t think were necessary, overall this was a compelling, sobering, important book I’d definitely recommend.

57. The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Detective Rachel Gerry and her boss, Esa Khattak are part of the Community Policing Section, a division tasked with approaching minority-sensitive cases throughout Canadian law enforcement. Initially, the case of Christopher Drayton, dead of an apparent accidental fall, doesn’t seem to fit their division. But as the detective dig into the case, they discover Drayton may be a wanted war criminal living in secret under an assumed name. A murder mystery like The Unquiet Dead is a little outside my reading wheelhouse, but the friends who’ve recommended this series were right on. Both Rachel and Esa are complex, interesting characters that I want to spend more time with, and the mystery of Drayton’s connection to the slaughter of innocent Muslims during the Bosnian War was handled very well. I’m excited to continue with this series.

58. This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

This Life is in Your Hands in a memoir about Melissa Coleman’s childhood on the rugged coast of Maine in the 1970s with her parents, Eliot and Sue, who are part of the small movement of people leaving the comforts of society behind to homestead in the woods. The idealistic couple initially has personal and professional success at their endeavor, but the the cost of the simple life — frenetic summers, long winters, and the daily pressure to get by — takes its toll on their marriage and their family. The book opens with a tragedy amidst an idyllic scene, and Coleman maintains the tricky balance between the lovely parts of her childhood and the underlying darkness throughout the story. This is one of my favorite memoirs – it’s ominous, elegant, honest, relevant, evocative… just beautiful.

59. Arcadia by Lauren Groff

When Bit is born, his parents – Abe and Hannah – are two members of a commune in the fields of western New York State. As members of Arcadia, the family has committed to living off the land with a group of other idealists. Arcadia follows Bit as he grows, both in and out of Arcadia, and begins to ask questions about what an idealized version of the world could actually look like. Lauren Groff is such a beautiful writer, I will pick up anything and everything she does. (Now that I’ve seen them so close together, I realized that Arcadia is basically the fictional version of This Life is in Your Hands. Apparently I have a thing for the 1970s homesteading movement).

60. LaRose by Louise Erdrich

LaRose opens with a rather horrifying premise. While out hunting deer, Landreaux Iron kills his neighbor’s five-year-old son. Although the shooting is ruled an accident, Landreaux is consumed with guilt. After consulting with their ancestors via a sweat lodge, Landreaux and his wife give their son, LaRose, to the Ravich family as an act of atonement. The Ravich family welcomes LaRose into their home, but he maintains a connection to his parents and siblings, tieing the two families together while other forces in their community threaten to topple the carefully balanced peace. This book perfectly balances beautiful writing, a compelling plot, and historical context in a way that is both easy to read and still feels substantial. It’s a stunning piece of work.

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